As the excitement is building for the debut of the ambitious Overwatch League on Wednesday, our ESPN Esports insiders take a crack at answering five burning questions on our minds on this historic week in esports.
1. What matchup are you most looking forward to opening week and why?
Jacob Wolf, ESPN.com writer: Dallas vs. Seoul. North America's historic best, formerly Team EnVyUs, against South Korea's former titan, ex-Lunatic.Hai, will provide a good matchup and give a little bit better perspective on whether a gap exists between the two regions as much as it does in other games.
This one match doesn't mean everything -- but it's a preview for what will likely be a future playoff match. These two teams have never played each other, despite both competing in APEX for two seasons. So I'm glad we'll finally get to see the two face off once and for all, especially considering both are top contenders for the Overwatch League's inaugural title.
Tyler Erzberger, ESPN.com writer:
It has to be the Seoul Dynasty and the Dallas Fuel on opening night, right? The two most decorated teams pre-Overwatch League era were Lunatic-Hai in the east and Team Envy in the west, and those two cores have evolved into what we have today with the Dynasty and Fuel. No other match in week one has the number of stars that will be on display in the Seoul and Dallas clash, and the winner will walk out of the newly built Blizzard Arena feeling like the favorite to win it all after night one.
Leo Howell, ESPN.com editor: Dynasty vs. Gladiators. In the preseason, the London Spitfire entered as one of the teams to watch, and the Gladiators managed to pull off a win. Yes, it's the preseason and, yes, the Gladiators then lost its rivalry matchup with the Valiant late on in the exhibition schedule, but I am interested to see if L.A. has another upset brewing with the consensus favorites on the schedule in Week 1.
Rachel Gu, ESPN.com esports editor: NYXL vs. Boston Uprising. I'm ready for regional rivalries, even if this one is going to be one-sided.
Darin Kwilinski, ESPN.com esports editor: Boston vs New York. The East Coast is no stranger to fantastic sports rivalries, and this looks to be no different. We're talking the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox or Manhattan vs. New England clam chowder. Regardless of what happens in the regular season, these two should be playing for East Coast kingship at the very least.
2. What player are you most excited to see in Week 1?
Wolf: Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee. It has been a while since he has played at a professional level since the Philadelphia Fusion did not participate in the Overwatch League preseason and FaZe Clan hasn't competed since Contenders playoffs. But I'm excited to get to see him play once again and his team in general, although I do not consider them to be above .500 at the end of the season.
Erzberger: You guys can keep your established superstar players. I'm most looking forward to seeing NYXL's highly touted rookie Sung-hyeon "JJoNak" Bang at support. JJoNak couldn't play in the preseason due to being under the league's age limit at the time of the games, but his birthday has passed and he's ready to start when New York plays the Boston Uprising to open its season. JJoNak established himself as one of the best online players in South Korea before turning pro, and if he can make a smooth transition to pro play, the XL will be in prime position to challenge for a division title.
Howell: Ryu "ryujehong" Je-Hong. Ask a support main which player he's excited to watch and expect to hear about a support ... but not just any support. Ryujehong is the kind of support you love to have on your team and hate to play against, as he does more than just heal his teammates as Ana or keep orbs out as Zenyatta. He's running around, making things happen for his team, and he'll be a big part of the reason the Dynasty is one of the top teams in OWL for as long as he's doing his thing.
Gu: Ryujehong. He's the best support in the business and his Ana is just a treat to watch. He's also 26, which gives hope for people like me to go pro in Overwatch (I can dream, right?)
Kwilinski: Ji-hyuk "birdring" Kim of the London Spitfire. I need to see some high-level Tracer action, and I need it now.
3. What team do you feel has the chance to be the dark horse of the season?
Wolf: Los Angeles Gladiators. The team beat the London Spitfire in the preseason, although that means very little, I know. But this team is not predicted to do well -- although I think they'll outperform expectations. They have a ragtag mix of players, but I believe they can upset teams if overlooked or underestimated.
Erzberger: Give me the Valiant, depending on what you categorize a "dark horse" as. It's not a gamble to say the Los Angeles Valiant will make the playoffs, but I do think the team might have longer legs than just a simple one-and-done in the postseason. I think there's a legitimate possibility the Valiant could be in the league semifinal by the time the season comes to a close, and that would only mean LAV would only need a single match win to play in the inaugural Overwatch League final.
Howell: I have to go back to the Gladiators here. I think it's unfair to say the Valiant or NYXL since they're viewed by many to be firmly in that second tier behind Seoul and London, so if I'm picking from the rest, I'll go with the team that showed flashes of brilliance in the preseason. It was "only the preseason" so I'm not going to make any bold calls about L.A. winning the whole thing, but I think it can be a pain for top teams to face.
Gu: Any team that isn't Seoul Dynasty, London Spitfire or NYXL. Kidding. Probably the Gladiators. They've been under the radar, but I like what I've seen from Joon-seong "Asher" Choi and think he'll be looking to make a mark once the regular seasons starts.
Kwilinski: It's really a race between the Uprising, Shock and Fusion, isn't it? Shanghai didn't really impress in the preseason, Philly wasn't even there, and Florida fell flat, so if I had to choose I'd pick the Shock. Once the team is complete with Jay "sinatraa" Won and Matthew "super" DeLisi in March, the Shock could be a pretty formidable squad.
4. Is it too early to crown Seoul Dynasty the Season 1 champions?
Wolf: New York Excelsior, London Spitfire, the Dallas Fuel and others look good. The Dynasty has the longest history of success with its existing core players, and the Spitfire has a clear upside. The Excelsior too has been together for a while, and was a solid team during its days as LW Blue. Dynasty is still my favorite, but don't count out the others.
Erzberger: Because Overwatch is still a new esport and the entire landscape of what "Overwatch esports" is about to change drastically in the next few months. Teams are now living in team houses, scrimmaging against professional teams daily, and the grind will mold some teams into winners while others fold under the pressure. Seoul Dynasty would be my pick today to win the league, but who knows how the players withstand this type of schedule. What people thought was an "elite team" a few months ago might not even be close to the ceiling of what a truly elite team can look like after a year of development in the Overwatch League, and that's what gives every team a fighting shot to make the playoffs in year one.
Howell: Because GC Busan won the most recent season of APEX? I struggle to find many reasons to doubt the team once known as Lunatic-Hai, but the most recent APEX season didn't inspire confidence in the squad being unbeatable. But it'll be the best team on paper and has experience winning elite Overwatch competitions together, so I'm not going to predict any other team to win the league this season.
Gu: Because London Spitfire and NYXL exist.
Kwilinski: Based on preseason? No. That was an utter domination by the (mostly) former Lunatic-Hai squad. But one can hope another team rises to give the analyst desk something to contemplate -- even if the team that rises is still a roster of South Korean prodigies.
5. Based on the geolocation, what rivalry are you most excited for?
Wolf: While New York vs. Boston is the easy answer, I'm excited for San Francisco Shock vs. Los Angeles Valiant, NorCal vs. SoCal. These teams are relatively close in skill -- unlike New York and Boston, where the former is significantly better -- and it's exciting to get to see these mashup teams, built from either highly skilled or longer-tenured players in the game's short history, to play against one another. Bring it on, California.
Erzberger: As someone born and raised in Los Angeles, it has to be the Battle for LA between the Valiant and the Gladiators. The Blizzard Arena is set in Los Angeles, and at least for the next year, the setting for all the non-final matches in the Overwatch League will be played in the City of Angels. This means that the two teams aren't only fighting for playoff positioning each time they take to the stage, but they're also playing for the loyalty of the city and fans who come into the arena hoping to find a hometown team to root for. No other rivalry in the league has this amount of importance behind it, and whichever team can outperform the other in the opening season will likely have the support of its city moving forward, leaving the other as the unfortunate understudy.
Howell: The Battle for L.A. Both teams look like they've got fun players and good organizations behind them, which means we'll likely see this rivalry for years to come. And more so than any other rivalry, once geolocation begins in earnest, the atmosphere at an L.A. vs. L.A. matchup will likely be the best in the league, if only because both sets of local fans can be in attendance with little need for travel.
Gu: NYXL and Boston. I'm from New York so the NYC/Boston rivalry has always been near and dear to my heart. Everything from Giants vs. Patriots to Yankees vs. Red Sox - I'm here for it. Plus, New York is a train ride away. If I can watch the games in my own backyard, I consider it a victory (damn you west coast).
Kwilinski: I'll harken back to the Boston and New York Rivalry. I'm really looking forward to seeing if either of these teams have an understanding of just how fierce this matchup can, and should, be based on pride alone.